The idea of “separation of powers” is a basic component of the American legal system. The legislative branch passes laws, the executive branch enforces those laws, and, when necessary, the judicial branch interprets the laws.
In the recent case of North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan, the District Court of Appeal for the Fourth District of Florida was asked to determine whether a previous ruling of the Florida Supreme Court concerning the constitutionality of a cap on damages was applicable to a particular medical malpractice suit.
The previous case, Estate of McCall v. United States, 134 So. 3d 894 (Fla. 2014), held that Florida Statutes § 766.118, which purported to limit noneconomic damages awards in wrongful death cases arising from an act of medical negligence, was unconstitutional under the Florida Constitution.
Facts of the Case
In 2007, the plaintiff patient went to the defendant hospital for carpal tunnel surgery. During the procedure, the patient’s esophagus was perforated. After being released from the hospital, the patient was found in her home nonresponsive. She was taken to a different hospital, where her esophagus was repaired, and she was placed in a medically induced coma for several weeks. She filed suit against the defendant hospital, as well as the anesthesiology team responsible for the intubation and the company that employed them.
The case was tried before a jury, and the jury determined that the patient had suffered a catastrophic injury (by way of severe brain or closed-head injury) as a result of the defendants’ negligence. Accordingly, the jury awarded the patient some $4.7 million in total damages, including $4 million for past and future pain and suffering. The court reduced the noneconomic damages award based upon the cap on noneconomic damages and the statute pertaining to sovereign entities.
The Decision of the Appellate Court
Both the defendants and the plaintiff appealed the trial court’s order. Upon consideration, the appellate court affirmed in part and reversed in part, directing the trial court to reinstate the jury’s award of damages but holding that the damages could still be limited as to a governmental defendant based upon the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The court also held that a particular defendant was not to be held liable for the damages attributed to the nurse.
In so holding, the court refused the defendants’ request to distinguish single-claimant personal injury cases from the multiple-claimant wrongful death situation addressed in McCall. The court found no basis for doing so that would not have conflicted with the higher court’s ruling in that case. According to the court, the caps were unconstitutional because they discriminated between classes of medical malpractice victims in both the personal injury and wrongful death contexts.
For Help with Your Florida Medical Malpractice Case
As this case illustrates, the law of medical negligence can be complicated and is ever-evolving. To schedule an appointment with an experienced medical malpractice attorney, call Cohn & Smith at 954-431-8100. Since failure to file suit before the expiration of the statute of limitations can be fatal to your claim, do not delay in making this important call. We handle cases throughout South Florida, including Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Weston, and North Dade County.
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